Monday, 6 February 2017

Book Review - The perfect vehicle by Melissa Holbrook Pierson

The perfect vehicle : what it is about motorcycles by Melissa Holbrook Pierson

New York: W.W. Norton, 1997                      ISBN 0393318095

I very nearly put this book down a few pages into reading the Foreword, which describes what it's like to ride a motorcycle, but reads like a poorly executed creative writing class exercise. Thankfully I persevered with the book, and Pierson left the classroom to pen what is an interesting, thoughtful and at times moving book about motorcycling, from an avid practitioner of the art.

Intertwined with diversions into motorcycle racing, manufacturing, record rides and other interesting facts, Pierson tells the story of her motorcycling life, which will ring true with fellow motorcyclists even as it teaches them things they don't know.

Like many people who come to motorcycling from a family that doesn't partake in the past-time, Pierson was introduced to 'bikes through a significant relationship; in Pierson's case a boyfriend. Her riding history in this book is also a history of her relationships until - after marrying a non-rider - she can truly realise that she loves the activity of motorcycling itself, rather than her involvement with other motorcyclists.

After acknowledging that it is impossible to impart in words the visceral experience of riding to someone who has never done it, Pierson does try to describe what it is about riding that hooks the hard-core few (4-7% of American motorists) into choosing it over many other things. And there is so much to describe: the feeling of travelling through country rather than over it, of being one with the machine, of the feeling of achievement in overcoming obstacles of weather, roads, and sometimes the fickle machine itself.

Pierson is a rider who likes to travel on her 'bike, not just go for a short Sunday ride, and much of this book is taken up with stories of long trips both in the USA and Europe. And these trips keep living and are re-lived by the rider: in dreams, stories around the campfire, or in friendly bench-racing sessions at the local hostelry.

While things may have changed in the 20 years since this book was written - although I doubt it - Pierson points out the sexism inherent in motorcycling, where being female relegates you to being either a pillion, decoration, or ignored totally.

Finally this book is paen to that greatest of motorcycles - Moto Guzzi, the most legendary Italian maker of them all. Anyone who knows anything about motorcycles wants one, and those lucky few who own them are surely right to think themselves biker aristocracy. Pierson well describes the intense joy and pain that these Italian thoroughbreds can give an owner.

As a fellow rider (and it is a fellowship, as Pierson notes), I really enjoyed reading this book. As a biker, I'm probably not the person to say that a non-biker would "get it" after reading this, but I know that after I finish this review I'll be packing my panniers and heading out on the road.

A really enjoyable book, just make sure you skip the Foreword.

Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell

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